Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia found in patients across the globe. Alzheimer’s and its related health conditions affect millions of people, taking away from them even their source of livelihood.
The population of UAE is rather young, hence the condition is still less prevalent although it does exist. However, as people age, gradually the incidence of Alzheimer’s is also expected to grow. In addition to this, there is a strong relationship between Alzheimer’s and chronic metabolic diseases like diabetes and cardio vascular diseases (CVD) which are rampant in this part of the region.
Alzheimer’s is a progressive degenerative brain disease in which the brain cells stop functioning effectively and eventually die leading to memory loss. This is an irreversible disorder that can be treated but not cured. Alzheimer’s causes memory loss in those affected. It begins with troubles in remembering recent occurrences and progresses to full term memory loss. The condition interrupts the daily functioning of those affected as they might forget their loved ones and also forget how to perform routine activities like dressing up or using the toilet. People with Alzheimer’s develop trouble in focusing; they feel confused or frustrated and may have frequent moods swings. They often feel disoriented and face troubles in communicating with others.
Alzheimer’s and dementia are terms that are often interchanged, although dementia is a condition comprising all the causes of long term memory loss. Dementia is used to describe loss of brain functioning affecting memory, thinking and language to an extent which interferes with daily activities. There are various types and causes of dementia, Alzheimer’s is one of the important cause of dementia.
Alzheimer’s is usually found in aged people, particularly those over 60 years of age. Alzheimer’s was considered to be a normal part of old age, which it isn’t really because not every old individual develops the condition. The exact cause of Alzheimer’s is still unknown, although two types of brain abnormalities are considered to cause the condition:
A protein named Beta-amyloid forms clumps over the brain tissue leading to deposition of amyloid plaques and destroys brain cells by lowering the threshold for brain cell death, leading to brain atrophy.
Brain cells depend on an internal transport system to carry nutrients, metabolites and other essential materials. This transport system requires normal functioning of cytoskeletal protein-Tau. In Alzheimer’s disease, this protein structure gets twisted and form neurofibrillary tangles which interrupt normal brain functioning.
Most of the research regarding treatment of Alzheimer’s disease is focused on these two factors.
In addition to the aforementioned suspected factors, there are a few other ‘risk-factors’ that put people at the risk of developing Alzheimer’s;
- Age – the condition is not normal and isn’t a part of normal ageing, however the risk of developing Alzheimer’s increases with age.
- Pre-existing conditions – People with underlying disorders like Downs Syndrome are at a greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s. The condition begins depicting symptoms in those with Down syndrome much earlier as compared to others.
- Lifestyle conditions – Unhealthy lifestyle conditions lead to various health issues. Smoking, lack of exercise, obesity, high BP, diabetes etc. are factors that increase your chances of Alzheimer’s. Uncontrolled type 2 diabetes and Cardiovascular diseases have been confirmed to be linked to the condition, giving rise to brain changes seen in both Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, referred together as mixed dementia.
- Strong family history of Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s generally goes undiagnosed because people consider memory loss and many of its other symptoms as a natural part of ageing. This is also because of serious unawareness about the diseases and its effects. There is no single test for diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, while a specialist may perform a few cognitive tasks with neuropsychological assessment to determine the condition and confirm it by newer imaging techniques and other lab tests. Friends and family should make sure they understand the symptoms and report them early to a specialist as early diagnosis can aid in better treatment.
People with Alzheimer’s need physical, emotional and mental care. Communication becomes difficult for people suffering from the condition and the patient may find it difficult to lead a normal life. In such cases the role of the family is fundamental. Medications are available which can slow the pace of mental deterioration.
Given the scarce presence of Alzheimer’s in the UAE and the social stigma associated with the condition, there is little or no awareness among people. Every year September is recognized as World Alzheimer’s Month and 21st September as “World Alzheimer’s day” in order to raise awareness about the condition and challenge the stigmas associated with it. September 2017 marks the 6th global World Alzheimer’s month under the theme ‘Remember Me’ to emphasize the importance of early detection and diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.
Aster Clinic, Muteena.